(Photo top left to right: Marisha Childs, Eric Zimmerman, Mel Rader; Photo bottom left to right: Brian Wilson,Sharon Meieran)

Oregon faces one of the most intense and consequential elections in 2016, where your vote will make a difference.  We know that communities that vote experience better health, education and economic opportunity.  APANO’s civic engagement work is about speaking out and fighting for what is best for our families.  Our team has reached out equally to all candidates in selected races to provide them an opportunity to communicate more directly with the 250,000 Asian and Pacific Islanders in Oregon in advance of the May 17th Oregon Primary Election.  We encourage you to reflect on their answers and discuss with family and friends as you make your decisions.

Candidates have been asked the following questions to engage more directly with constituents, and for voters to be more familiar with their vision and policies. We are giving equal opportunity to all major candidates in the race. APANO is a 501c3 nonprofit, and makes no endorsements.  This information is provided for educational purposes only. 

Multnomah County Commission District 1

Brian Wilson: www.wilsonforportland.com
Mel Rader: melrader.com
Eric Zimmerman: EricZimmerman.org
Sharon Meieran: www.votesharon.com
Marisha Childs: vote-marisha-chids.ruck.us

No responses from:
Wes Soderback
Ken Stokes

1. Oregon’s racial demographics are changing rapidly, and today more than 1 in 5 are from communities of color. How are you qualified to represent the interests and concerns of diverse communities of color, immigrants and refugees?

Wilson – I am a life-long Oregonian and have witnessed and celebrated our increasing diversity. Oregon hasn’t always been so open to communities of color. Understanding this history is important when framing how we, together, will shape the future. Oregon presents a welcoming face to the world, yet we are also known for human trafficking, abysmal conditions for migrant workers, and have recently struggled to fix funding for important health care delivery in some of our poorer rural communities as a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. I will work hard to find ways to integrate county services, untether them from centralized and often unapproachable locations and lower barriers to access for most in need. After all: the county’s role in local government, the human side of the equation, is to do its part in preserving the values all Oregonians share: a livable and healthy place to raise a family and call home.

Rader – I’ve worked on social justice and health equity for the past ten years, working side by side with many organizations representing communities of color. I helped develop a five-year plan to address health equity in the region with a strong focus on communities of color and underlying issues of structural racism and income inequality. I serve on the Oregon Health Equity Alliance Steering Committee to promote health equity and reduce disparities related to race and class. My social justice work includes legislation to end profiling, expand healthcare for all children, and require paid sick leave.

I believe we can’t do good public health policy without truly addressing equity related to race and class, which is why I’ve prioritized working with diverse communities. This was true for me as student as well: I went to an international school with 79 countries represented among 200 students, and I also worked overseas on nutrition projects in Bangladesh, West Africa, Mexico, and India.

Zimmerman – As someone who has dedicated my life to public service, I have consistently advocated on behalf of our diverse local communities through my work in the U.S. Army and as Chief of Staff for County Commissioner Diane McKeel. One example of my qualifications in this regard is Commissioner Loretta Smith’s endorsement in this campaign and our shared commitment to inclusion and representation for communities of color, immigrants, and refugees. This is further underscored by the work that I’ve done at the County, championing policies that encourage economic development, anti-human trafficking, and improving services for historically underserved communities. Additionally, in my role as the co-chair of one of the county’s employee resource groups I have worked closely with other ERGs, including the Managers of Color and Employees of Color to better reach and serve our communities. These experiences have given me the perspective and experience to continue to be a strong partner and advocate.

Meieran – As an ER doctor and community health advocate, I have been dedicated to serving the most vulnerable and traditionally underserved in our community. I regularly care for people who are immigrants, refugees and people of color, and interact and learn from people of many diverse backgrounds. In particular, I am passionate about mental health, and believe mental health concerns go unidentified among certain populations in our community for historical, cultural and other systemic reasons. It is imperative that we address this hidden issue within communities of color, immigrants and refugees. We must ensure we have culturally appropriate care providers, who understand how to best serve people in their communities. As Commissioner, I will listen to leaders and individuals representing communities of color, immigrants and refugees to understand their unique issues and to better serve their needs.

Childs – Being the only candidate of color, I am particularly aware of the cost of being under-represented. I have always championed for equity and cultural awareness, from the time I was in college and was president of the Black Student Union to my participation currently with the PTSA of my children’s school with the Cultural Enrichment Office. Just as no one Black person can speak for all Black people, I do not profess to be able to speak for all communities of color. However, I do bring a perspective that we all share a commonality in that we have all experienced some similar forms of exclusion. I pride myself on being a lifelong learner who is also a good listener. As your county commissioner, I will continue to seek out the concerns of our communities of color, I will work to ensure that our immigrant and refugee community feel welcomed.  

2. Asian and Pacific Islanders are persistently under-represented in our public processes. What is one policy you would fight for that expands access for Asian and Pacific Islanders in the political process?

Rader – I am currently working with the Oregon Health Equity Alliance to develop a Community Health Improvement Plan for the County. I believe this plan will be critical for addressing many underlying inequities in our communities. I will fight for full funding to implement this plan and for meaningful community input to be part of the process of implementation.  I believe that strategies to improve community health must be led predominantly by communities of color so that we can develop strategies that are culturally-relevant and that resonate with the communities that are experiencing the most disparities. Only through a community-driven process can we truly be effective at promote health equity.

Zimmerman – The delivery of health services by culturally specific and responsive providers and locations is an initiative I am already supporting and trying to bring to the county in this next budget. I will continue to push for this type of change in how we deliver services when I am a commissioner. I am dedicated to maintaining an open door policy at the county level, with transparency to build trust and relationships in the community. I want citizens who have traditionally felt disenfranchised by the political process to be empowered and encouraged to contribute to policy dialogue and implementation.

Meieran – I am running for County Commission to ensure that all people in our community, especially those who are most vulnerable and traditionally underserved, have the opportunity to be safe, healthy and live with dignity. We need to identify, streamline and fill gaps in many County programs, this includes issues of equity, a lack of culturally appropriate services and other barriers. This has been reinforced by my experience with the Community Oversight Advisory Board, which oversees the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement with the City of Portland and Portland Police Bureau regarding Use of Force.

As Commissioner, I will convene, engage and partner with communities of color, immigrant and refugee organizations, nonprofits, advocacy groups, and healthcare organizations to ensure our systems are working together and meeting the diverse needs of our entire community. I will also ensure the voices of people of color are an integral part of all policy discussions and implementation.

Childs – Expanded access to English as a Second Language programs. Improving access to interpreters and translation services. One of the largest barriers to accessing services throughout, is a language barrier. The county offers citizenship classes at libraries, but if more ESL classes were offered, not only to youth but to adults in the community as well, that would be one step the county could take to not just say this is a welcoming community, but to show we are welcoming community.  

Wilson – I want to forge a stronger partnership between county health services and organizations like the Asian Health and Service Center, leveraging relationships I started building years ago. I’ve said often: county needs to untether services from expensive and often difficult to reach community health centers and invest in programs and services in the neighborhoods where the services are needed the most. Successful community-based programs like AHSC and even Virginia Garcia Memorial Health are exactly the kinds of models the county should support. I’ll be a strong advocate for this paradigm shift. Leadership is about being aspirational, but also practical.

3. There have been an increasing number of comments about communities of color by candidates that raise the danger of violence and discrimination. What specific leadership will you take to address the anti-immigrant and racist political rhetoric in Oregon?

Zimmerman – There is no room in Oregon politics for anti-immigrant sentiments and racism. Whether or not I am elected, I will continue to proudly stand up for vulnerable communities, as I have always done, an example of which was my fight to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the U.S. Army. We cannot progress as a community unless we come together in favor of social justice and boldly speak out against discrimination and prejudice. I am particularly interested championing the two following issues: Oregon driver’s license/identification for all Oregonians; and community police practices to reduce the use of force and militarization of police agencies.

Meieran – I will raise my voice and take a stand to counter the anti-immigrant and racist political rhetoric in Oregon. I will use the power of the office to publicly call out instances of racist and anti-immigrant political rhetoric, and work with community leaders to determine how most effectively to address systemic racial inequities, such as those recently identified in the Sheriff’s Office.

Childs – Public condemnation of racially ignorant comments. The danger of violence and discrimination in Portland and Multnomah County is often times more nuanced and subtle than in other parts of Oregon. However, these micro-aggressions cannot go unchecked. There is a culture of tolerance toward racially charged and anti-immigrant remarks. As commissioner, I would adopt a “no tolerance” policy and seek ongoing feedback from communities of color and immigrant communities to assess the efficacy of these policies.

Wilson – I abhor the level of discrimination and anti-immigrant rhetoric the current presidential cycle has created. On one side of my family, I’m an immigrant. On another, I’m part of the First Nation. And yet on still another, I descend from the first settlers of New England. The strength of our nation is our diversity, our welcoming of pioneers from all points on the globe who seek better lives and opportunities. Every day I work hard to stress this important point, and will do so for as long as I have breath in my body. Racism has no place in our political process in Oregon.

Rader – I believe we must call out statements that represent anti-immigrant and racist sentiments. I was deeply disappointed at the political discussion related to the Safe Roads Initiative. This would have extended access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, and its opposition was overwhelmingly anti-immigrant. Similarly some of the most important political fights moving forward will be to speak up for immigrant rights, and I will be a strong voice for immigrant rights.

There have also been disturbing racial statements from Presidential candidates and from our own Multnomah County Sheriff that show ignorance about systemic inequities and structural racism. We must publicly call out these statements. Only then can we make progress toward a more fair and ethical police and corrections system, toward health services that reach people from diverse backgrounds, and toward addressing homelessness in our a culturally-responsive way.

4. What policy priorities do you envision fighting for that you believe will make a difference in the lives of Asian and Pacific Islanders?

Meieran – My top priorities are housing, mental healthcare and criminal justice reform, and I believe all of these will directly impact the Asian and Pacific Islanders. 1) We must first invest in housing. No one can get or keep a job, take care of their physical or mental health, get off drugs, or adequately support their family unless they have a safe place to live. 2) We have a dysfunctional mental health system that too often relies on people getting into crisis before they can receive help. We need to connect mental healthcare, housing and services people need to lead productive, meaningful lives. 3) We must address racial inequities that exist along the continuum of our criminal justice system, and we need openness, transparency, and accountability as we go through this process. I support programs for at-risk youth and families to keep people out of jail in the first place. We also need a spectrum of services, including jail diversion, drug treatment, and supportive / transitional housing.

Childs – Recognizing credentials from foreign countries which would enable a new immigrant to earn a living. Often times immigrants arrive from other countries where they practiced law, medicine, nursing, what have you. But, upon arriving here the education and experience that went into achieving this was all for naught. That is incredibly unfair and does not suggest this is a welcoming place. Working with State Legislators to craft agreements which allow for acceptance of foreign training and experience as equivalent in the State of Oregon would have a huge impact on our economy and will benefit the individual but also the Asian and Pacific Islanders in our community.    

Wilson – It is my experience that Asian and Pacific Islanders face homelessness and poverty in our community just as much as any other community of color, but do so in ways that are not as public or obvious to the casual observer. Ancient cultural barriers certainly contribute to this, but more important barriers persist. I want to make sure the county is sensitive to the difficulties many people from Asian and Pacific Islanders communities face in first knowing about services they might be able to take advantage of, more important, how to deliver those services in a culturally sensitive way. I like the example of Neighborhood House’s food bank, with culturally appropriate resources in a dignified delivery system. Let’s invest more in programs like this, lower the barriers to access, and lift all people up.

Rader – I will fight for a range of policies that will make a difference in the lives of Asian and Pacific Islanders including addressing healthcare access, air quality, and economic opportunities, but perhaps the most critical and immediate concern is housing.  I believe the County needs to make a much more significant investment in low-income housing to address homelessness, and they should do this with general operating bonds. Our pervasive homelessness is shameful, and we need to do what it takes to address this issue; this means (a) an investment of public funds in the range of $200 to $500 million in the next five years, (b) implementation of inclusionary zoning to create more affordable housing options, (c) a construction tax on large developments to pay for further housing, and (d) promoting of a “Housing First” policy to first connect people with stable housing then bring services to them to address other health and social issues.

Zimmerman – I believe my commitment to addressing economic inequalities and our affordable housing crisis will have a positive impact on the lives of Asian and Pacific Islanders, as well as my dedication to an open, transparent government. First, I’ll ask the County Chair to consider holding a budget hearing near the Jade District to ensure we receive input from the Asian and Pacific Islander community. Additionally, I’ll work to ensure that our SUN school providers meet the needs of our Asian and Pacific Islander students. I will also work to strengthen relationships between the County and our educational and workforce partners to ensure that our youth can find good jobs that pay a living wage. I support a robust implementation of inclusionary zoning and accelerated development of workforce housing and I support policies that carefully consider the use of taxpayer dollars and the effectiveness of county programs to best meet the needs of our residents and advance our values through employment.

5. Why should Asian & Pacific Islanders vote for you?

Childs – I am of the belief that inequity is at the core of what keeps Multnomah county from being great. We cannot continue helping some but leaving others behind. A strong and vibrant community lifts up all of its members. We need a commissioner who is willing to have those uncomfortable conversations and make tough decisions because it is the right thing to do. I am that commissioner and I will always be a champion for communities of color.

Wilson – I have more than two decades of experience in community leadership, relationships with dozens of non-profits, electeds, community and business leaders. I know how to bring people together and solve complicated problems. Leadership is not about knowing how to do a job better than someone else, it’s about understanding the training and resources those on the front lines need to better do their jobs, take pride in doing their jobs, and serve the people in the process.

Rader – I am the only candidate that has worked for many years in the community to address social justice and racial equity. My record demonstrates that I will fight for policies to promote equity, that I will take on industries and special interests to do what’s right, and that I will honor the diverse voices of the county. I believe we are at a turning point, and it is essential that we create a region that honors diversity, promotes economic fairness, and ensures community-driven policy change.

Zimmerman – As a public servant, I have always been willing to fight on behalf of marginalized individuals and communities, no matter the cost. This is one of the many reasons I have been endorsed by a multitude of workforce unions and community leaders, including Anita Yap. I am a proud Oregonian, a veteran, a senior leader at the County, and I will be ready to serve this community on day one. Public service is my passion and I would be honored to continue this work on the Multnomah County Commission.

Meieran – I have a broad background and have been a leader in addressing unintended pregnancy (one of the leading causes of poverty), the prescription drug epidemic, coordination of care for the most vulnerable, mental healthcare and police reform. But the hallmark of all my advocacy and policy work has been engaging community, treating people with compassion and respect, and truly listening to what others have to say. I will do this as County Commissioner with the Asian and Pacific Islander community.

To get involved in APANO’s civic engagement work, please contact Kathy@apano.org or call 971-340-4861.